I pulled something in my neck the other day. I didn’t notice the pain then, but now I am balanced in our cat hair-covered recliner with a heating pad behind my neck and my computer on my lap. This is fine, for the moment, and I’m sure it will be better soon. Being still able to type is good because I certainly have a lot to do in the next week or so – in less than two weeks, I’ll be back in the classroom, teaching an art history survey class at a nearby community college. I have a syllabus to finish off, some reading to do, and some lecture notes to write.
I’m excited! It’s fair to say that I didn’t realize how excited I would be to go back into the classroom until it began to seem like it would happen. A friend put me in touch with the department—she heard they’d lost an adjunct lecturer to a sudden move, and she happened to know an Art History Ph.D. (me!) who could handle such a class. This has little effect on my day job at the museum, for the most part, it’s additional and outside hours that I would not normally be working, so while I will soon number among the contingent faculty of the world, it’s not quite the same as relying on piecing classes together.
I finished my dissertation three and a half years ago. After that, I took a FULL break, cut the cord, barely thought about my dissertation or trying to publish anything until last year when a call for papers came up that was too good to pass up, even if it meant finding the money for a trip to Europe. I came home from the conference a little frustrated—it seemed like people were only just coming to conclusions that I had come to literal years ago now. I had a greater sense of what it would mean to have my scholarship out in the world because I believe that it’s true that no one has replicated my work since. As I think about that conference experience, and as new opportunities present themselves, I’ve been thinking more about trying to publish parts of my dissertation. With a few years distance, I have better sense of what I want from academia and perhaps what it can give me in return.
And with this distance, and the opportunity to return to the classroom, comes the hope that my years away from academia working directly with museums and nonprofits, places where humanities majors apply their skills, will help me be a better educator. If I have a better sense of what my scholarship could mean, I am also more able to make case for why it’s important for students to study art history. I know what skills they learn from art history because I have had to deconstruct those skills myself, repackaging my knowledge and experience over and over to get the jobs that I cobble together to get to the point of having a CAREER. (I have thoughts about the recent Twitter feeds exploring the twists and turns of careers after leaving academic. I have thoughts about the notion of having careers.)
When I was in the classroom while I was still in grad school, especially when I was teaching expository writing, I tried to be deliberate in explaining why I demanded they do an exercise over again or why it was so important for them to see one thing or another in the text—there is always a reason. A lot of academics, especially, are bad at this. They replace the idea that people deserve a justification of how they spend their time with the belief that certain things are inherently worth knowing and require no justification. That may be true. It may also be true that knowing why they are supposed to learn something enables people to take it further into their minds and hearts. So here’s to a new semester, my first proper semester in three and a half years, and here’s to art history! Hopefully my neck heals enough, soon enough, to make those lecture notes as interesting as I know they can be.